When you hear the word “orchestra,” you tend to envision a rather large group of musicians. The Road Kill Orchestra, however, suggests that an “orchestra” can get away with just five members as long as they are willing to think big.
And that’s exactly what this Worcester combo does, mashing up blues jazz, funk, and primal rock ‘n’ roll in concoctions that run from funny to dark all the while aiming for the provocative.
“The band has a unique style and we wanted to do more than one-offs about the Turtle Boy statue or walking on Main Street,” says J. Stuart Esty a/k/a Dr. Gonzo T. Nightcrawler, of the RKO's reputation for mulling Wormtown in song.
|J. Stuart Esty in Dr. GT Nightcrawler mode|
Esty and drummer Austin Beliveau have had the RKO running in one fashion or other for 18 years. In addition to playing keys and singing with the Road Kill Orchestra, Esty is the creator of Dr. Gonzo’s condiments and opened a store for his products in downtown Worcester about four year ago. The band took to playing at Esty’s salsa and relish emporium and word spread about this boogie woogie sensation brewing in Worcester. The RKO moved from the shop to be a featured artist at the annual Paulie’s NOLA Jazz N Blues Festival in Worcester and a regular in the regional clubs.
The RKO makes its Coppertop debut Friday playing from 8 to 10 p.m. Sax player James Bennett, bass player Brian Sampson, and guitarist Mark Leighton are the current members of the orchestra playing alongside the group’s founding fathers. Esty says the new lineup has spurred the RKO into new areas and the band has been sharing bills with jam bands, punk troupes, and ska outfits.
“We really are playing to all ages. At one show there was an 80-year-old break dancing,” says Esty, the surreal never far from his reach.
Though the RKO can cross genres, its sound is an identifiable, swampy brand of rock that carries with it sharp lyrics. “Nigerian Lottery Rag,” for instance, is a wry jab at the greedy couched in the humor of someone falling for one those online scams.
“‘Reminiscing with Perfect Strangers’ is our Traffic-meets-Santana-meets-Tom Waits song. The lyrics are pretty angry, but you’d never know it from the music,” Esty says.
Making the most out of things not being what they seem, the RKO is at work on a new CD and will be on tour this summer.
“I’ve gone through a lot of changes with the band,” Esty says. “But every time there’s a change, things just seem to get better musically and venue-wise.”